Saturday Night Live: “Melissa McCarthy/Phoenix”
B+

Saturday Night Live: “Melissa McCarthy/Phoenix”

B+

Saturday Night Live

“Melissa McCarthy/Phoenix”

Season 38, Episode 17

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I remember when Melissa McCarthy first hosted SNL last year, it didn’t do much for me but I found myself in the minority, and I think I understand why now. It’s her utter exuberance in every weirdo role she’s given—it lets her transcend a mediocre sketch by just being so goddamn winning. Even more than last time, McCarthy utterly dominated this episode, much more so than even the most seasoned hosts often to, but she definitely had more hits than misses this time around.

The worst sketch was probably the cold open, partly because comedy in translation is usually death for this show (I don’t know why they keep going to this well) and also because Kim Jong-Un legalizing gay marriage just felt like a stale joke at this point, and they took it nowhere. Seth Meyers had a perfectly good jab at North Korea’s missile program in his Weekend Update monologue; why not just leave it at that? Sure, you get Dennis Rodman saying “live from New York, it’s Saturday night!” But I don’t know if that justifies it. I’ll admit it’s a close call.

The SNL cold opens have disappointed for a long time, though. But McCarthy’s monologue (also often a lackluster portion of the show) really slayed me. I had a big dumb grin on my face the second she came out in those ridiculous heels and I realized what she was doing. Every appearance of Taran Killam was perfectly timed, every wobble and dorky joke was hilarious, and the pratfalls were just phenomenal. This woman can pratfall with the best of them. That very much set the tone for the episode—McCarthy is an outstanding performer who can really kill with very simple, clean bits like walking on too-high heels. 

Her first sketch saw her playing a Mike Rice-type coach at a nothing Division III school. The whole thing went a little too long and didn’t escalate quite enough—sure, she threw a toaster at a girl’s back and tazed Bobby Moynihan, but I wanted her final showdown with Bill Hader (doing an excellent robot-man journalist impression) to be a little more epic. With something this recent, it’s a fine line to walk—if it’s just a sketch about a coach abusing her students, it’s almost a bummer to watch. Always go big with these kinds of things!

The Voice spoof was also a little by-the-numbers—all they could get from Shakira was that she has an incomprehensible accent, Usher puts his feet up, Blake says everyone’s a “little bit country”—but McCarthy pulled it through by taking it down a notch this time, playing a contestant who’s utterly disinterested in the game. Sudeikis (as Blake Shelton) did really nail this exchange, though: “I knew there was a little country in you. Where do you live, darling?” “I live in a basement except there is no roof.” “Uh-huh. You’re talking about a hole.”

With the honey baked ham bake-off, things kicked into a higher gear. I don’t know why SNL thinks it should be putting sketches like that Voice spoof and the Mike Rice thing first—just because they’re more instantly recognizable to an audience doesn’t mean they’re going to hold anyone’s attention for very long. The honey baked ham sketch was devastatingly simple. McCarthy was playing one of her stock characters, a lady who’s both slightly pathetic and surprisingly aggressive, and she did a ridiculous dance with Moynihan and Killam, dressed as pigs, to present her ham. That’s it. There was a punchline that barely connected, but it was really just about this ridiculous dance set to C+C Music Factory and Salt N Pepa, and they completely made it work. I can’t really put my finger on why I was laughing so much. I guess it was the repetitive use of the word “ham?”

“Bathroom Businessman” took a nice turn (although Kenan could have sold pooping himself even harder, if you ask me) and Weekend Update had one of its best weeks in a long while. I love Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy unabashedly—Vanessa Bayer’s frozen smile gets me every time and they’re getting more adventurous, slipping in obscure jokes like her cat David Ben-Purion. I don’t know who that was for apart from me, but I can’t get enough David Ben-Gurion jokes. Kenan’s Charles Barkley could be even more absurd and still work, but he was forgettable sandwiched between Jacob and Drunk Uncle, who really dialed the absurdity up to 11 this time.

There may come a time when Drunk Uncle reaches critical mass and isn’t funny anymore. It never happened with Stefon, but Drunk Uncle lacks Stefon’s rigid, bulletproof formula. But right now he’s in that sweet spot where he can bring in Peter Dinklage as “Peter Drunklage” for no good reason other than that’s a funny thing to do. And Dinklage can say things like “you know what’s in my Tumblr? Regret.” Fine by me, guys.

Million Dollar Wheel was the one outright flop of the night featuring McCarthy—again it tried to coast on her presence alone, but it was just too flimsy a premise. The pizza-eating loan thing was genius, though. Again, just something about what she invests in that stock character, furiously eating an old slice of pizza—it reminded me of the ranch dressing sketch from last year, which I know a lot of people loved. The happy ending was maybe unnecessary but McCarthy killed that slow Godzilla walk of triumph back onto the set.

Finally, the Art of the Encounter spoofed a 90s I never really knew but stuck to its aesthetic very well. Pretty ideal closing sketch. One thing I noticed—where was Fred Armisen this week? He popped up in tiny roles a couple of times but otherwise nada. Killam, meanwhile, really dominated, which is fine by me, it just felt more noticeable than usual.

Stray observations:

  • McCarthy admits she’s not much of a heels wearer. “I’m primarily a Croc.”
  • “You ever sang in front of people before?” “Yeah, I sang on The Voice like 2 minutes ago.”
  •  “God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Number one: Thou Shalt Not Do Homework. But it sure beats doing homework!”
  • Barkley really blew his bracket this year. “Wichita State? I didn’t even know Wichita was a state!”
  • “Does this TurboTax have flaxseeds?”
  • McCarthy clearing away the “leather desk accessories” and saying “excuse me” to a chair was probably the best moment of the night.

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